Modern-Day Rosie the Riveters Help Keep Aviation History Alive
Story by Bonnie Helander

(Photos by Charles Burcher and John Willhoff, Airbase Georgia, and Bonnie Helander)

During the 4th of July Parade in Peachtree City, the assembled crowd enthusiastically applauded the patriotic float, sponsored by the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), Airbase Georgia, which featured the fuselage of a Boeing N2S Stearman (PT-17 biplane), used in World War II to train new pilots, including the Tuskegee airmen. The float, which won the Mayor’s Trophy, was dedicated to the Rosie the Riveters of WWII – referring to the iconic poster campaign that exhorted women to join the war effort by taking jobs in factories and shipyards. 

Volunteers continue to work at the CAF hangar at Falcon Field to restore this PT-17 biplane, including the intricate process of covering the wings and tail with new fabric. Many of the women volunteers have enthusiastically tackled this part of the project. It is detailed, challenging work that demands some sewing skills and doesn’t require a mechanical background. Once restored, the biplane will be certified by the FAA and available for the public to purchase a ride with a CAF pilot.

These modern-day Rosie the Riveters all have something in common – a passion to conserve our military heritage and a desire to honor family members who served. Jane Simpson, a retired attorney from Carrollton, has been volunteering at the airbase for two years. She developed a love of aviation from her aunt, who trained Navy cadets during World War II. When she learned about volunteer opportunities at the airbase, Jane jumped right in and soon became Education Officer – giving leadership to the airbase’s educational component. Jane is helping to re-imagine the current museum displays and is kick-starting a $1.2 million fund-raising campaign to build a new annex at the hangar to house some of the bigger artifacts. 

Since 2016, Robyn Rosenzweig has been driving from North Atlanta to the hangar three times a month to work on the PT-17 biplane. She wants to honor her grandfather who, as a WWII pilot, flew a B-17 Flying Fortress. Robin O’Reilly, who has been volunteering for over ten years, recalls stories from her grandparents who lived in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the largest of three Manhattan Project sites built to create the first atomic bomb. Her grandfather worked on the project. These talented women have developed a special camaraderie as they work together to help restore a piece of WWII history.  

The Commemorative Air Force is a nationwide non-profit aviation association that houses the largest flying museum in the world. Its mission is to educate, inspire and honor through flight and living history experiences those who served in military aviation. The CAF has more than 13,000 members, 89 units throughout the United States and 181 aircraft that are viewed by more than 10 million spectators each year. Known as the “Ghost Squadron,” these 181 warbirds, either flying or in restoration, are vivid reminders of some of the most defining moments in American military aviation history. They represent the bravery, sacrifices and innovation of America’s “Greatest Generation.”

Peachtree City is proud to be the home of Airbase Georgia – the only CAF unit in the Atlanta metro area. The unit started in 1987 as the Dixie Wing and was promoted to airbase status for its 35 years of accomplishments. There are over 450 volunteer members who restore and maintain six vintage World War II aircraft and one post-Korean warbird, including a P 51D Mustang, a FG-1D Corsair, a P-63A Kingcobra, a T-6 Texan, a T-34B Mentor, a Fairchild PT-19A Cornell and the Boeing N2S Stearman that was featured in the July 4th parade. 

All dues-paying volunteers receive the status of Colonel, so there is no one “outranking” anyone else. Steve Forsyth, one of Airbase Georgia’s volunteers, shares what motivates each volunteer. “These warbirds need to be flown so people can see them, hear them, and understand what the war was like and what our Greatest Generation sacrificed to win the war.”

Airbase Georgia volunteers are excited to host the 18th annual WWII Heritage Days on October 8 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at their Falcon Field hangar, with a swing dance to follow in the hangar until 7 p.m. Jane Simpson, Education Officer, is heading up the team preparing for the event and is enthusiastic about what people will discover on this day set aside to celebrate the 1940s and salute those who sacrificed so much to maintain our freedom. The theme this year is “Dawn of the Space Age,” and according to Jane, “We will be highlighting advances in aviation since WWII and how these accomplishments directly contributed to advances in the space age.”  

 

You will find something interesting for the whole family at WWII Heritage Days, including vintage aircraft rides, military vehicles on display, living history displays and education activities. Those in attendance are invited to dress up in their favorite 1940s ensembles for the chance to win prizes for the best costumes. WWII re-enactors will be dressed in costume as well to share stories of the war and what was happening on the home front. Tickets are on sale now for $10 for adults and $5 for ages 11-17. Your ticket covers general admission and the 1940s Victory Dance, but donations are also greatly appreciated.

If you are interested in helping to support the vital work of the Commemorative Air Force to “educate, inspire and honor through flight and living history experiences those who served in military aviation,” here are a few ways you can get involved.

  • Join Airbase Georgia and volunteer: Men and women of all ages and talents are welcome! You don’t need a background in aviation to volunteer, but young airplane mechanics are especially needed to help with the restoration of aircraft. Those interested in aviation history are being recruited to help revise the museum’s displays. 
  • Schedule a Flight in a vintage warbird: The public is invited to experience the thrill of flight in one of these historic WWII aircraft by scheduling a ride with a certified pilot volunteer with CAF. For information on costs and aircraft availability, call the Rides hotline at 678-364-1110 or by emailing rides@airbasegeorgia.org.  
  • Book one or more vintage aircraft for your special event: The historic warbirds at Airbase Georgia are available to be featured at any community event or air show. 
  • Rent the facility for your meeting or event: The hangar at Airbase Georgia Warbird Museum has over 10,000 square feet of space that can accommodate up to 400 people, and is available for rent for meetings or events. The backdrop of the seven vintage aircraft gives guests a memorable experience. The briefing room, which can accommodate 100 people, is also available for rent. 
  • Donate your WWII artifacts to the museum: If you think you have a significant, historical artifact to include in the museum, go to airbasegeorgia.org/donate-an-artifact.
  • Donate to the CAF general operating budget or to the museum annex building fund to expand the museum’s collection of artifacts. Donations can be made at paypal.com: CAF Airbase Georgia.

Airbase Georgia is located at Atlanta Regional Airport at Falcon Field, 1200 Echo Court in Peachtree City and is open to the public for tours or rides on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. For more information on WWII Heritage Days or how you can get involved, go to airbasegeorgia.org.